Something shifted when I got back from Intag. Maybe not the same day: I quietly mourned our descent into the city smog and collapsed into bed almost as soon as I got home, exhausted. But the following week felt different, like I had settled in. To be honest, I haven’t experienced as much culture shock as I expected; that may be because I expected everything to feel weird and different, and it turned out to be only partly weird and different. I’m sure there are other factors – knowing the language (enough, anyway), the info from orientation, the people I’ve met, etc. But I’m a bit tired for introspection, so full psychological portrait later.
The fifth week was a whirlwind. Our second class began (Development Paradigms & Political Discourse), and every single day featured one or two speakers, all incredibly well-informed and often considered authorities on their subject. Topics included immigration, human rights, mining, indigenous movements, feminism, poverty, LGBTQ activism, and (of course) political discourse and development paradigms. All of this made me extremely glad to be abroad with SIT, as opposed to enrolled in a university proper; I got to ask a mining geologist details about copper exploration, a US Embassy economist about Ecuador’s development options, a human rights consultant about immigrant labor, and much more.
Then, a load of tripe. Not figurative. It’s an infallible remedy for stomach issues, though so far I’ve been fortunate to avoid anything debilitating. But them temptation remained; it’s like a rite of passage for long-term visitors. Three of us went to La Floresta (a neighborhood to the southeast), ordered a bowl of tripa mishka from a street vendor, then watched queasily as she fished an intestine out of a bucket and fried it over a grill. Our dish came with mote (corn, but think big), onions and an epic thunderstorm. Lightning cracked a few blocks away as we took our first tentative bites. The tripe itself tasted a little like bacon, but nourishingly fatty and so chewy that it’s referred to as “Ecuadorian gum.” There are so many idioms that make sense once you spend time around cows (or eat them) – spilled milk, kicking the bucket, chewing the fat. I was a vegetarian for eight years before I came to Ecuador, and I’ll probably be a vegetarian again when I go back, but for now – adventure is out there!
On Friday we went to La Ronda, a stretch in the historic district that comes to life at night. Sights included a rabbit wearing a tiny hat perched on someone’s shoulder, spitting images of Charlie Chaplin, Disney’s Merida and Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter, jugglers and comedians, Andean folk dancing and stores full of artisan-made chocolate.
This last week and a half I’ve set a record for sights that went un-photographed, but I haven’t been completely unproductive. Apart from eating tripe, I’ve undergone another important rite of passage: haggling with taxi drivers.
Something I’ve learned: no taxi driver wants to use their taximeter at night, despite the fact that it’s illegal not to (punishable by $45 fine, nothing to sneeze at in a country where only chain stores can reliably break a twenty). This was exactly what happened on the way back from La Ronda: four people piled in, the driver set the price (“diez dollarcitos, no más”) and ignored requests to use the taximeter until I opened my door and threatened to find another taxi. It was mostly an empty threat, but he grudgingly turned on the taximeter, and we paid half his suggested fare. It’s the little things.
Another little thing: going to the GALÁPAGOS TOMORROW!!! I can’t even believe this is happening. But first, a taxi to the airport at the crack of dawn, and they better be nice, because I’ll be too tired to haggle.